Her mouth gapes open in shock. “Yep, he had the same reaction,” I laugh. “I’ve walked through that town more times than I can count, so it wasn’t a big deal. But when he saw me at the store, he cornered me, demanding to know what happened to me and why I had left. He was spitting-mad to learn that I had walked back. He went over every possible scenario he could think of as to what could have happened to me, but then that was when you came up and ended the conversation. I haven’t talked to him again until we ran into each other last night. After which he snuck into my room, I might add.”
“Oh, this is so good! He’s totally into you. I do feel really bad for him and the huge mix-up from before. Now I finally understand the comments about how he’s tired of being a twin and people getting them mixed up.”
“Man, I wish I hadn’t been such an idiot that first day I met them.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself; it’s hard to tell them apart at first. I got them mixed up too,” she says. My head whips around to look at her in shock and she rushes to continue, “No, no. I didn’t accidently sleep with Jace or anything. I just didn’t know Jaxon had a twin brother either. The only way to really tell them apart at first is their...”
“Voices,” we both say at the same time, giggling.
She sighs and whispers, “Jaxon’s voice is so...”
“What?! Girl, you’re insane. That voice takes my panties off before his hands can do the job themselves.”
I laugh out loud and redirect the conversation. “Anyways, even if by some miracle things did work out with Jace, I don’t think he would ever be able to tell Jax.”
“Well, he’ll sure have to get over that now, won’t he?”
As we walk toward the back to grab our purses, she says, “Hey, do you want to go with me and Quinn tomorrow to get pedicures?” Before I can turn her down, she says, “Don’t worry about money. Quinn got all these gift certificates from someone she tutors, but they expire tomorrow so we have to use them.”
“I don’t know. The last time I saw Quinn… I’m pretty sure I heard her call me a she-devil.”
She laughs out loud and covers her mouth to stifle it, but there’s no holding back her amusement. “I’m sorry,” she says between snorts, “I shouldn’t laugh. That whole time was pretty outrageous. Quinn is loyal to a fault; it’s one of the reasons I love her. And neither of us had ever heard of you until you showed up, so she didn’t know your story either.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. Doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking to hang out with her though,” I say.
“I’ll take care of it all. So be ready, because I’m picking you up tomorrow morning.”
With a nervousness I’m not accustomed to, I sit on the end of my bed and dial my mom’s phone number. Calling her doesn’t make me nervous, since we usually talk a couple times a week at the very least. It’s what I need to tell her that makes me uneasy.
After four rings I begin to wonder if she’s home, but then I hear her familiar voice, which always makes me a little homesick.
“Hello, my favorite son,” she says with her characteristic greeting, and I can hear the smile in her voice.
“Mom, it doesn’t count if you say that to both of us.”
“Damn, you caught me,” she jokes. “But seeing as how I haven’t heard from your brother since I left California a few weeks ago, you certainly are my favorite.”
“Gee, thanks Mom. I win on account of having no life.”
“Is that why you’re calling me on a Saturday evening?”
“No… there’s actually a beach party tonight everyone’s going to,” I begin. I know she’s staying quiet so I can tell her what I need to on my own. She’s always had the patience of a saint. “Mom, I wanted to talk to you about Pre-med…”
Without the sound of any surprise in her voice, she asks, “And what are your plans now?”
In one long breath, I say, “I’ve been double-majoring. Pre-med and Business. But I don’t want to be a doctor, Mom. I thought it sounded cool a long time ago, and Dad acted like it was the greatest thing ever. I tried to like it, I swear, but now it’s my senior year and I’m so tired of doing both. Uncle Logan has been talking to me since last year, trying to convince me to come and take over when he’s ready to retire.”
Damn, she’s more disappointed than I thought she would be. I know they are all excited to have this awesome doctor in the family, but do they not want me to do what I want to do? Especially something like taking over my dad’s business? Well, at least Uncle Logan thinks it’s a respectable idea.
“I want to do what Dad did. I want to join The Riley Group and keep it in the family. I know you’re disappointed, but… I know it’s what I need to do,” I finish.
“All I have to say about this matter is…thank God!” she exclaims. “I’m so relieved you finally made this decision.”
“Jace, I never thought you wanted to be a doctor. I was surprised when you applied for the Pre-med program. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when you got in, but I always thought you were more interested in your Dad’s company than anything else. I remember you asking a million questions a day about his job. Any chance you had to go hang out at his office, you took. I know you’ll do a fantastic job, and I couldn’t be happier for you. I’m sad that you felt like you needed to impress us though. What does Jaxon think about all of this?”
“Jace, you haven’t told him?” she assumes loudly and correctly.
“No. Jax is the worst when it comes to bragging about my major. How can I tell him?”
“Jace Riley, you need to stop being so concerned about your brother and what he thinks. He loves you and will support you through anything. No matter how distracted he is at the moment.”
“That’s the other reason why I haven’t told him. He can’t stay out of Em’s mouth long enough to talk to me.”
“Talk to your brother. Stop making excuses. I love you and you’re doing a great job with school. You should know by now I’ll always support your decisions.”
She keeps me on the phone for a while longer, updating me on everything happening back home, and even trying to get me to talk about any girls I’m dating. Nice try, Mom. She eases my fears about telling Jaxon and makes me realize that it really isn’t as big a deal as I’ve been making it out to be.
When I finally disconnect, I realize that the beach party started an hour ago and I was supposed to be there with Quinn and Em. I rush to get dressed and run out the door.
I pull up in the parking lot at the same time Jax’s truck is easing into a spot near the front.
“Dude, you’re just getting here?” Jax calls when I step out of my car.
He and Cole are freshly showered from practice and looking a little beat. Coach must have run them hard today. He tends to do that at Saturday practices, because he likes to try and wear them out so they won’t go out and party later that night. It usually doesn’t work though.
“Running behind. The girls here?” I ask, as I catch up to them.
“I sure as hell hope so, since they aren’t answering their phones,” Cole adds, sounding irritated.
“Ease up, jackasses, I’m sure they’re at the party. Nobody carries a damn phone with them at these things,” I explain.
I can hear the laughter and the hoots and hollers from the party. As we cross over the sand hill, I quickly spot our group standing around three lit fire pit rings. From what I’ve heard, some of these guys are out here several nights a week, just sitting around the fire. It does create a nice atmosphere, the way they’ve built the fires up as high as they can get them in the circular, concrete rings.
“There’s Quinn,” Cole says, while walking away.
“It was nice seeing you too, man,” I say to his retreating figure.
Cole shoots me the middle finger, and Jax wraps my neck in a headlock tightly.
“Aw, does my little brother need some attention?” he whines, mocking me. He knows how irritated I get when he calls me his ‘little brother.’ A two-minute difference doesn’t count in my book.
This as**ole loves to pull the headlock move on me, and apparently he still hasn’t learned his lesson yet. With my head restrained next to his armpit, I reach behind his back and lock his opposite arm against his chest and hold it there firmly. My feet bounce into position behind his, and then I move toward the ground, bringing his body with me. He falls to my side and I’m instantly released from his lock, which allows me to trap his legs underneath me.
He laughs and strains to kick me off of him, but I lean forward and use my forearm to hold his neck down. Eventually, he’s able to get his legs wrapped around my waist. He kicks them out, forcing me to release my hold on his neck, and then manages to get my head into an arm triangle chokehold. We continue horsing around until we’re both out of breath and slowing down significantly.
After I almost cause him to pass out because his stubborn ass won’t tap out, we shove away from each other and lie back in the sand, laughing. This is how we’ve always been. If there’s ever any bad blood or distance between us, we fight it out.
“God, this is better than porn,” I hear a female voice say from above. Without moving my body, I turn my neck to see Tatum and Ashley, cheerleaders at our school, gazing down at us. “Can you reenact that, except this time can I lie in between you two?” Tatum asks, while giggling and nudging Ashley.
“Beat it,” Quinn snaps, and the two onlookers grumble and stomp away.
“Thanks, Quinny,” Jax says from the ground. “Have you seen my girl?”
I stand up and pull Jax to his feet. I know by now he’s dying to get his hands on Em, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see her as well. It’s surprising how Em has wiggled her way into our family without even trying. She’s like a little sister to me now, and when she’s not swapping spit with my brother, she’s actually a ton of fun to be around.
She’s always sending these short, crazy videos to my phone that she randomly films throughout the day. It’s become a source of daily entertainment. Last week, she sent me a ten-second video of her and Quinn trying to rap to a song on the radio. But between the both of them, they only knew one word from the actual song, so the rest was them making up complete nonsense. Yesterday, she sent me a video of Jax singing and dancing in front of the bathroom mirror while getting ready. He obviously didn’t know she was filming. And what kind of brother would I be if I didn’t keep it for potential blackmail material?
We make a complete circle around the groups sitting by the fires without spotting Em. Jax begins walking at a faster clip and is about to make another round when I glance out at the waves and see two figures sitting side-by-side in the sand, the tide hitting their toes. When the person on the left throws her head back laughing, I recognize the familiar blonde hair.
I reach out, smack Jax on the chest with the back of my hand, and point out to the water. He glances over and releases a mega-watt smile at the sight of her. We start walking out toward the two girls and then I freeze, realizing who Em is talking and laughing with. How the hell did that happen?
We hear the girls continue laughing and then Em says Audrey’s name out loud, confirming what I already knew. I’d recognize that body anywhere. They still have no idea we’re no more than twenty feet behind them. While Jax is stressing that those two are talking, for some reason it makes me feel damn good inside to see them getting along so well. I can’t even begin to explain how they got to this point, but I’m sure it’s one heck of a story.
“What the hell do you think she’s telling Emerson?” he grinds out and begins storming toward them. “Why is she here again?” he whispers under his breath.
I immediately reach out and stop him. “Chill out, Jax. Obviously Em’s not upset. Don’t go over there and ruin it by being a possessive asshole.” He slows his charge, but continues forward. I can tell he’s holding back his emotions when he squats down behind Em and kisses her on the cheek. Em turns her head into his kiss and smiles. Audrey startles backward and then she immediately stands up. Her wide eyes are staring at Jaxon, most likely fearing what he may say, but she still hasn’t spotted me yet. Slowly, she begins backing away.
“Em, I’ll see you later okay?” she says.
“You’re not leaving, right? I mean, remember what we talked about?” she asks cryptically.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I’ll stay for a little while.”
“Okay, well I had fun today. Thanks for coming with us!” Em says with a smile. Jax sits down next to Em, facing the water, and she quickly gets up to sit in his lap, facing him. Audrey spins around to head back toward the party and accidently runs right into my arms. Or maybe I had planned it that way.